Friday, September 7, 2018

Interview with Mnasse Tekle of Bitter Truth

Bitter Truth is an up and coming hardcore band from Grand Rapids that’s been making some noise the last couple of years. My long-time friends Nate and Jacob recently brought them to my attention after recording/releasing their new EP "Reality Check" via their studio/label Smog Moon Recordings.

I’ve been chatting with their singer Mnasse Tekle for the last couple of weeks about his upbringing, the band, and what’s been popping off in the 616 lately.

Read on.

I always like to learn a little bit about people's backgrounds so talk a little bit about your family and your childhood.  Are you a Grand Rapids native? What sort of presence did art and music have in your household when you were coming up as a kid?

Well my parents are from a small country in Africa called Eritrea. I myself was born in Dallas, Texas, but I was raised here in GR most my life.

Music and Art has always in some form or another been a part of my life whether it be Eritrean music, which was played in my house all the time when I was a kid, or hip-hop and rap. Then not too long after that I fell in love with punk and hardcore, and that changed things up a bit, haha.

So how did your folks wind up making their way to the U.S. from Eritrea?

To be honest I'm not exactly sure on the details on how they got here, but they were pretty much getting away from the intense war going on between my country Eritrea and Ethiopia for our independence.

Do you still have family there....have you been back to visit at all over the years?

We still have some family out there, but unfortunately I've never met them nor have I ever been out there myself. One day for sure. Better late than never I guess. 

What sort of hip-hop stuff did you get into as a kid and how did you eventually gravitate towards punk and hardcore?

When it comes to hip-hop and rap, man, haha I can go all day with this dude, but I'll keep it short.

I listened to all sorts of hip-hop and rap from every region for sure, but I definitely drifted more towards East Coast hip-hop than anything. From Mobb Deep, Nas, Biggie, Fugees, to one of my all-time favorite groups from the Midwest, Bone Thugs N Harmony. But Tupac will always be my all-time favorite. I still listen to it all. That will never change.

I think it happened sometime during middle school though. Some of my friends from school would introduce me to different bands here and there, and I'm pretty sure that triggered it. I started digging into different styles and bands and finally I came across punk/hardcore and everything related to it. After that, it all started coming together. 

I went to college in Grand Rapids and lived there from 1996 to 2002, and I was always struck by how segregated the city was along racial and economic lines. What was it like for you growing up in GR in terms of your school experience and just living in the city more generally? 

Well I can say this city has changed/cleaned up a lot since I was a kid. We didn't have much growing up, but we made the best outta what we had. GR low key wasn't the greatest back in the day. Lots of gangs and drugs in the streets and schools. Wasn't pretty.  

As for the segregation here, I mean it really wasn't that different than anywhere else. Growing up you knew there were places where you'd stand out just for having a darker complexion than others. Not saying things have changed much since, but growing up it was a little worse then. 

What commonalities did you see between hip-hop and hardcore and what were some of the first hc bands that resonated with you, either live or recorded?

To me hip-hop/rap and hardcore have a lot of similarities. Both have lyrics/stories that are totally similar and relatable. I think that was one of the main things that drew me to hardcore. 

First hardcore band I ever saw live was Remembering Never, and that show totally changed things for me, haha. After that, I started coming across bands like Bitter End, Terror, Down To Nothing, No Warning, and honestly the list goes on. 

Talk about the formation of Bitter Truth. How did you guys meet up and decide to start jamming together?

It all started with Jonny (guitar) and I just jamming out by ourselves in his basement. Then after a few times of just us jamming out on our own we decided to try and see if our friend Xzavier wanted to play drums. Then our friend referred us to our friend Sam who was our first bass player. 

After a while of us jamming we started taking things seriously and then Bitter Truth came to be. Our line-up has changed a few times since then, but throughout all changes and obstacles we’ve gone through the band has grown and matured. 

What has the writing process been like in the band up to this point, both musically and lyrically?

The writing process with us is actually pretty smooth but also interesting for the most part. We all know what we want, but we do fight sometimes on where we want some songs to go. But that’s normal for us. If we didn’t fight like we do I feel like this band would be awkward to be in and it wouldn’t last, haha. 

For me the lyrics are always based on things I’ve either gone through personally or just a situation or person that just needs to be called out. Hints the name. Jonny and l actually put a lot of work and thought into what we write lyrically. We want to make sure it comes out strong and clear, but also makes a very big impact on the the situation it relates to.

I know you guys tracked the most recent e.p. with my old friend Nate at Smog Moon. How did you guys hook up and what was the recording process like? 

We were in the process of trying to figure out where we would go to record, and then my friend Jacob Weston hit me up about us recording a song for a benefit compilation CD with Smog Moon Recordings. 

We ended up doing it and had a dope-ass time recording with Nate. After that we felt like we found our spot to record the new EP. We definitely put a lot of work into it and had our good friend Brett come out to do a guest spot which was pretty cool. Overall it was an awesome time recording the EP with Nate, and we’ll for sure be working with him again.

What's the current state of hardcore and punk in Grand Rapids right now? What bands and venues should people have their eyes and ears on?

Right now GR seems to be producing tons of new bands. We got our brothers in Prison Suicide and Worst Self. My boys in Detain are making a big impact in hardcore right now. We also have bands like Death Rate, Justice Decays, Roundhouse, Life Loss, and a lot of others out there. 

Lately people have been booking shows at their houses, which has been pretty fucking dope, but we also have the Wealthy Street Theater which is also a great venue to play at, and this bar called 745 too. 

What's next for you guys in terms of writing, recording, and touring?

We’re currently writing new stuff. We’ll see in the future what touring will look like, but for right now we’ll just play as much as we can. 

Us releasing this new EP was just the beginning.

Final thoughts?

BT has way more to put out, and we definitely are excited to see how far we can take it. 

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